The Politics of Unrecognised States
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Project graded 'Outstanding'



This project aims to further our understanding of the politics of unrecognised states. What is an unrecognised state?

The analysis draws on examples from a range of unrecognised states (from Abkhazia to Somaliland), but also provides two in-depth case studies: Nagorno Karabakh (which is formally part of Azerbaijan) and Republika Srpska Krajina (a Serb statelet which existed in Croatia between 1991 and 1995). More about the cases.

The research includes six weeks of intensive fieldwork in each of the two areas; a total of 55 in-depth interviews have been conducted and non-English archives have been accessed in order to complete a focused comparative analysis.

Below is a summary of the main themes and findings:

States without sovereignty

Internal statehood can develop without external sovereignty but statehood without recognition takes a specific form and unrecognised states are not just like other states, merely without the added bonus of recognition. The absence of external sovereignty at the same time enables and constrains the development of effective state institutions, resulting in instability and volatility.

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External sponsors of unrecognised states

It is impossible to understand the creation and continued survival of unrecognised states without reference to external actors. External patrons provide vital support, but the relationship is not one-sided, and these entities are not merely puppets. Even so, external dependence creates significant dilemmas for unrecognised states; it undercuts their de facto independence and contradicts their strategy for gaining international recognition.

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Conflict resolution: When separatists compromise

The de facto independence enjoyed by these entities constitutes a significant obstacle to reaching a negotiated settlement; these entities are not waiting for military victory, they have already won. However, this does not mean that compromise can be ruled out and that recognition or reintegration through military force are the only options. The context of non-recognition puts these entities under strain and combined with the introduction of political reforms this could provide an opportunity for conflict resolution.

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Self-determination vs. Democratisation

The proclamation of democratic values has become an integral part of the legitimising strategy used by unrecognised states. This change is driven both by external and internal forces, and it results in a complex interplay between democracy, self-determination and non-recognition. The new narrative has produced internal changes but is also affected by significant constraints and the outcome tends to be an imitation of democratic statehood.

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Unrecognised states are frequently viewed as anarchical badlands, but this view misses important internal developments and makes it harder to find a peaceful solution. The significant variations found among unrecognised states should be recognised, and although this research project does not advocate international recognition of these entities, it does advocate international engagement with them.

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